Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 November 2020
This chapter explains the materials and techniques employed in the Amsterdam Sunflowers, enabling a comparison with the London version described in chapter 3. Building upon the 2016 article published in the National Gallery Technical Bulletin, it incorporates the latest findings gained by computer-assisted methods used to characterize the canvas support, as well as in-situ campaigns of non-invasive investigation together with further analysis of microscopic paint samples. The chapter sequence follows the steps in Van Gogh's working practice. Starting with the canvas, automated analysis of the weave enables the provenance of the canvas to be traced back to a particular roll of linen ordered by Van Gogh. Combining technical evidence with knowledge of historical manufacturing techniques further allows us to reconstruct the way in which Van Gogh divided his canvas roll into pieces used for Sunflowers and other paintings. We go on to consider how, with the original painting at hand, he used charcoal to transfer the motif of the London Sunflowers onto his blank canvas. Despite careful planning of the composition, an adjustment was required late in the working process, when Van Gogh added a painted wooden strip to extend the background above the flower at the top edge of the canvas. The artist's process of working up the composition in paint is described, paying special attention to his use of colour. The pigments and pigment mixtures used in the Amsterdam Sunflowers have been comprehensively mapped and are compared with the London picture, with discussion of some similarities and differences that account for the distinctive colour scheme of each painting. This understanding of colour application in the Amsterdam Sunflowers lays the foundation for subsequent chapters that will go on to consider the impact of light-induced colour changes that have taken place over time, and the related need to define appropriate lighting guidelines for the future safe preservation of this painting and others made with similar materials (chapters 5 and 7).
Studying the physical characteristics of canvas picture supports is an established means of acquiring valuable information about a painter's working methods. The canvas itself is hidden by paint on the front and a second canvas is often applied to its reverse for added support.